Memories & Dreams: Plaque Check – Morgan Bulkeley

By Marty Appel

The community of baseball is justifiably proud of those who served their nation during time of war, and the Hall of Fame has long called special attention to those veterans of military service who went on to induction in the Hall itself.

The only inductee to have enlisted for duty in the Civil War was Morgan Bulkeley, who would go on to serve as the first president of the National League.

Bulkeley, who ancestors arrived on the Mayflower, was the son of Eliphalet Adams Bulkeley, a co-founder of Aetna Insurance. While children of privilege often avoided war, even paying others to take their place, Morgan and his brother Charles both signed up. Charles would not survive.

But Morgan did. In 1861 he enlisted with the New York National Guard, joining the Union Army as a private. Assigned to service under General George B. McClellan, he would see action in the Peninsula Campaign, a battle fought in Virginia over the spring and summer months of 1862. The mission of the campaign was lofty – to capture Richmond, the capital of the Confederacy. Ultimately, with General Robert E. Lee taking over the Confederate forces, the mission was unsuccessful, and it was an early, uplifting victory for the South.

Private Bulkeley served for the remainder of the war, and then rejoined the worlds of business, finance, insurance and politics.

In Hartford, he became the principal backer of the Hartford Dark Blues on the National Association. When the National League replaced the National Association in 1876, Hartford remained in the league as a charter member.

A drawing was held to determine the first president of the new league, and Bulkeley’s name emerged first. This sat well with William Hulbert and Albert Spalding of Chicago, who saw in him the integrity and character needed to drive the league’s acceptance.

But Bulkeley did not wish to devote his full energies to baseball, and served only one season. Hulbert succeeded him, while Bulkeley continued his career heading Aetna, and entered politics. He served four terms as Mayor of Hartford, and in 1888 was elected Governor of Connecticut. He ran for re-election in 1890, but when the state legislature could not determine the outcome, he exercised a constitutional prerogative and remained in office until it was decided. This resulted in his nickname, the “Crow-Bar Governor,” for he needed a crow-bar to break into his office over the objections of his political opponents.

In 1904 he was elected to the U.S. Senate, served one term, and then returned to head Aetna until his death in 1922 at age 84.

When Ban Johnson, the first president of the American League, was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1937, it was felt that the honor should also go to the National League’s first president, and thus Bulkeley went in with Johnson, who served 27. Hulbert would wait until 1995 to earn his entrance into Hall.